The recent day of sunshine was a welcome relief from the incessant wind and rain of late. I was able to get out on my holding for a good look around in the daylight and check boundary fences and trees for any damage caused by the elements. The snowdrops were out in force in the withy patch. There are signs too of crocuses and primroses in the hedgerows, their presence announcing the coming arrival of spring. In the air too I could hear the resident pair of buzzards calling to one another. The birds on the garden feeders are beginning to vary more, with visits from blue tits, goldfinches, nuthatches and chaffinches. Even the bird song is becoming more noticeable adding a welcome cheer to the early mornings.
Muddy paddocks and hungry ponies
The paddocks, however, resemble the Somme in places but the ponies are still looking in good condition and don’t seem to be suffering unduly from the damp conditions. They stand with their backs to the wind with their tails fanned out around their legs. Their rain-soaked winter coats are soon dried off whenever there is a breeze. I am putting out hay for them to eat and they begin to congregate when they see me arrive home from work. They always seem hungry! The sound of the car driving into the barn acts like their dinner bell. I am grateful for the lighter evenings as it means that I can check them over without having to use torchlight and get a better overall impression of their health and demeanour.
The lighter mornings too are also signalling the time when I can begin to go back out on the Forest before going to work. In the next few weeks I’ll start bringing my riding-pony back into work and build up his muscles (and mine) before we start going for longer hacks out on the Open Forest. He’s the most marvellous character, being totally trustworthy and reliable. I’ve been putting off replacing him, because he is such a good riding pony, but his advancing age means that this year I will probably have to retire him and find a younger New Forest pony to bring on. I have ambitions of attending the autumn drifts on horseback but, although I know he would dearly love to go, he would not be up to the rigours of the chase. So this year he and I will enjoy our usual adventures, at a sedate pace, with the added interest of seeking out and checking on my free-roaming mares.
The breeding season
My two mares, who are sisters, are due to go out on the Forest in the next few weeks and I am excited by the prospect. The little bay filly is too young to breed at present but the chestnut mare will hopefully breed successfully this year. New Forest ponies have a gestation period of eleven months, and her foal will be born in the spring next year. The New Forest stallions that roam on the Open Forest are selected by a panel of judges from the Verderers of the New Forest, the New Forest Pony Breeding & Cattle Society, and the Commoners Defence Association. The stallions that make the grade are turned out for a minimum of eight weeks from May and have a very busy two months! They are selected on the basis of physical confirmation and temperament. It is this process that ensures the New Forest pony remains a genuine all-rounder and also keeps many of the ancient bloodlines going. If, for any reason, I don’t want the services of the free-roaming stallion I can bring the mare home during the period the stallions are at large on the Forest, and return her afterwards when they are gone.
Good things to come
This year will be my first full year as a Commoner of the New Forest and I am looking forward to it with great anticipation. My diary is filling up with the dates of shows, sales and meetings. The clocks go forward next month and the days will become much longer. Who knows we might even get a summer! For now, I am enjoying the signs of spring and the anticipation of good things to come.
Photos courtesy of Paul Chambers: http://www.paulchambersphotography.com/